Corporate Culture as Primary Driver of Radical Innovation

A new study about to be published in the Journal of MarketingRadical Innovation Across Nations: The Pre-eminence of Corporate Culture” powerfully reinforces work we launched last summer on “Culture and High Performance in R&D;”. The authors of the new study, Tellis, Prabhu, and Chandy, (Rajesh Chandy is professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota) rigorously document their findings. Their conclusion: corporate culture drives radical innovation in firms around the world much more than metrics more commonly or readily used by management. Their study is based on data from 759 firms across 17 major economies of the world. I encourage you to read it!

While verifying the distinctive importance of corporate culture as a driver of radical innovation, the study does not provide leaders with tangible means of engaging with culture as a leadership practice. In fact, in a footnote to the study, the authors write, “Other firm-level factors such as leadership quality and cross-functional integration may also drive innovation.”. This is about leadership development and collaboration, the work we do in supporting leaders who are not merely working in a corporate culture or through a corporate culture, but on corporate culture.

As Chandy and colleagues note in their study:, “Indeed, corporate culture is a factor that is unique, intangible, sticky, and very difficult to change. … These cultural traits can blind a firm to radical innovations on the frontier. “

Just as an ophthalmologisty tests visual fields of the eyes, we check periodically for blind spots of leaders. Paradoxical as it may seem, successful leaders know how to look for their own blinds spots as well as those of their organization. Many of those blind spots are in the “culture” field of vision. That is where we work!